In Case You Think Police Officers Are Overpaid…

I just finished Edward Conlon‘s memoir Blue Blood, about a Harvard-educated writer who joins the NYPD. I found it highly enjoyable — and I’m not the only one who thought so.

Whenever Conlon addressed a topic that I know something about (like the economics of the war on drugs — see p. 170 of the book’s paperback version), his analysis was always right on the money — which gave me confidence in his accuracy when discussing issues I know nothing about.

Among his many interesting insights is the following, which takes place on p. 239: Conlon has been getting information from a homeless heroin addict named Charlie, regularly paying Charlie small sums of his own money in exchange for tips. Charlie has a homeless friend named Tommy. One day on the street, Conlon runs into Tommy, who tells him a location where crack sales occur. Conlon writes:

I handed Tommy some money, he held up his hands and said, “C’mon, Eddie, you don’t have to, it’s okay.” I said, “It’s all right, you guys work, you take risks for us, you should get paid.” He took the money, but he shook his head.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I feel a little funny, since you guys pay out of your own pockets. Do you know how much we make out here, panhandling, during rush hour?’

“No, how much?”

“About a dollar a minute.”


I didn’t take my money back, but I saw his point. Charlie and Tommy made more money than us. I should have realized that earlier, as the math was not complicated — we took home less than a hundred dollars a day, while their habits were at least that. I tried not to dwell on the fact that, economically, a New York City police officer was a notch down from a bum.

Does this make anyone want to change their answer to last week’s beggar/hot dog vendor discussion?



You seem to be surprised that criminals make better money than the cops who don't arrest them.

And I'm supposed to feel sorry for the cop?

A heroin addict wiht a $100 a day habit who makes $1 a minute panhandling is just the type of criminal the cop should be taking off the street.

I'm now GLAD we don't pay this guy more.

He's a moron.

Mrs. Conlon

And for this my son went to Harvard?

Mike S

While the excerpt can be interpreted to say "Tommy" does some kind of illegal drug, he's making his money from panhandling (begging) which I'm pretty sure isn't illegal in New York City.
It's quite possible there are a lot of panhandlers who don't do anything illegal, so your suggestion that "criminals make better money than the cops" isn't relevant to the excerpt.


Well who's the fool here? Last time I noticed, no one was putting a gun to your head to give money to the panhandler. The easiest way to break this cycle is have people quit donating money to these guys on the street.

Here is where Christian Charity actually is contributing to drug addiction. As much as I don't like organized charities, because many have bloated management, they do more good because there is usually some semblance of determining what kind of help they can provide the down and out.

Random Esquire

I live in the great city of Chicago and after seeing a few lousy cops do some lousy things, I'm not terribly (at least initially) inclined to feel more heartfelt compassion for them than I am any other person. I do think most must be brave and good people and like any profession, I am sure there are some really stand-up policemen and policewomen.

But I hate that since I've lived here, I've seen a cop scream profanity out his car, seen cops turn on their siren to get through lights (no emergency...practically sipping coffee in hand...), and one cop bang a nightstick loudly against the El glass to wake up a sleeping passenger. This has, for better or worse, really damaged my image of cops. I suppose this all may beg the question of whether or not less cops would abuse their power if they felt more powerful financially.

How about whipping up that study?

Daniel Cecil

Crimepays, if you read Freakonomics you'd know that crime does not, in fact, pay. And when faced with arresting a drug dealer or a heroin addict - a title which should pretty much suggest mental difficulties - you would go after the addict? You wouldn't want to, you know, cut the problem off at the source?

I'm glad you're not a cop.

Michael Lusk

Maybe the top superstar panhandler working the world's best location makes a dollar a minute, but I really doubt that vast majority make anything like that money. Either Tommy or Mr. Conlon is 'molding the unshapely clay of truth.'

Those of who read 'Freakonomics' remember the chapter devoted to drug dealers. The great majority made very little money.


re: 1
Well, I imagine the cops think the tips they get from the drug addicts is "worth" more to fighting crime, than what they would get from arresting them...


panhandling is illegal in NYC, but mostly overlooked, like jay-walking. Is it just me or has the quality of user comments gone really far down since the move of the blog to NYT (please see first comment by crimepays)

Whit E. Knight

This probably isn't relevant, but this thread and the earlier one about the begger and the hot dog vendor reminds me of my late brother's practice when it came to begging. He never gave money to a panhandler, but if he encountered a down-and-out-person person who was offering a service (selling bottled water, cleaning your windshield, etc.) he always gave them more than they were asking.


Dope should be lawful .... stupid is.

Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

Let's see: would I rather be a cop (who has a roof over his head, pretty secure work, the - in general - respect of his community, and a regular salary) - Or, would I rather be a panhandler who makes More than the cop (but who also has no home, must live out on the streets, is addicted to heroin with little chance of breaking free of his addiction - given the harshness of the streets - and also - in general - has little if any respect from anyone)? Hmmm. Very tough to answer that one. An easier question put forth from the blogger: I would not change my answer. People who work hard (I can't imagine panhandling is Really as easy as some make it sound) deserve the money they make. That also means I think the cop should keep on paying that guy for any future tips he gets from him.

ils vont

One dollar a minute. It makes sense why some people just drop out of the working world and become a street person. if you can get beyond the hygene and embarrasment thing its, in a way, an honest life.


Even outside of the discussion of beign an officer vs. not, there are big distinctions within the police forces themselves.

The NYPD, which has (arguably) one of the the most diverse, comprehensive forces in the country, pays very very low for entry level officers. Those in the academy make next to nothing.

On the other hand, nicer parts of Long Island, where one would assume there is less crime, risk, and specialized skills needed, entry level pay is sometimes as much as 20k more.

Seems like a similar situation to education - where teachers (one of the most needed professions) are not paid well but celebs, etc are.


PS - Adam, I agree about the quality of the comments but adding a wider reader base, which will hopefully lead to a richer discussion, will also lead to fake (but occasionally funny) fake posts from Mrs. Conlon.


Oh, I don't seems that panhandlers are rewarded more directly for their efforts. The harder or better they beg, the more they get, for the most part.

Not so for policemen, I'm afraid.

A true economist would ask which of these men was getting the most of both monetary and intangible benefits for his efforts. In short, they might both be maximizing their utility given their individual desires.

So you don't have to feel sorry for either one of them.

It's all about choice.

Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

PS: I might feel a tad less guilty for *not* giving the panhandler any cash, however. Although I don't think All of the people who ask for money are as successful as him and his friends, so perhaps the gulit would also remain, but alleviated to some degree by relief that there are people who can do well, financially, making a living on the streets.


so let's assume an ambitious and honest panhandler who makes a buck a minute, weather notwithstanding ant works 49 37.5 hour weeks. seems implausible, but math suggests he's taking in about 110k/yr and presumably not paying various taxes. does it cost NYC less than that for a policemen when pension and health costs are figured in?


I find these posts quite naive to the problem, trying to focus hatred against people with severe difficulties and, as noted in an earlier post, often with straining mental issues. This is a social issue which must be tackled with intelligent thought.

Consider this dilemma: Most heroin addicts need a lot of money to support their habit, most of them are not functioning as employees and thus have no job. Some earn part of the money they need by selling drugs, but many do crimes such as burglaries that cost the society a lot of money.

Now; if we cut the supply of heroin that should help, right? Well you would think so, but it would have to be a permanent block, because in the short run this will increase heroin prices and the junkies need to do more crime to pay for what they need. And when police resources have been allocated to stop the flow of drugs, less is left to police the streets.. Funny proposition, right?


martin g

During rush HOUR a dollar a MINUTE equals $60.00. I would guess that what is actually being said is that this "bum" can, on the days that he is up to it, hustle up $100.00 over the course of a few hours. This sounds like very typical sensationalizing of an anecdote, that is, typical of all those who try to "hustle" money by writing. Not to say that Conlon is a liar. I've always (about 40 yrs now) been amazed at the ability of authors, (journalists in particular), to look past the obvious and ignore the simple in order to make their subject "interesting". A while back William Safire put it bluntly saying in effect that a good opinion writer states the sensational and implies the provacative. It's an art I guess!

"A panhandling bum makes more than a police officer". Fascinating but pure baloney if you take a realistic view of the bigger picture. What does the bum make in benefits? What liabilities attach to his lifestyle? What tangible and intangible benefits accrue to the police officer by merely being a responsible, law abiding citizen?